Memorial United Methodist Church, White Plains
May 1, 2016, 10:00 a.m.
Sixth Sunday of Easter
It’s Time! Sunday
Hymn of Preparation: How Can I Keep from Singing, TFWS #2212
The Peace of Jesus
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May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
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There I was, in the late 1990’s, standing at the top of a Vermont mountain. Well, part way--a small part--up a mountain, but it felt to me like the top. Skis on my feet, poles in my hands. My toddler down in the lodge at child care; my two older children off someplace on the mountain with a family friend.
I grew up in a nearly flat state, and I know how to cross-country ski. I had put downhill skis on my feet for the first time ever that morning. With my children watching from their more advanced ski-school spots, I had made my terrified way down the bunny slope over and over, and now it was time to try a green circle run.
I stood there for a long time, as people got off the lift, went around me, and slid away, looking irrationally happy about it. I was getting cold, just standing there. The guy at the top of the lift was watching me.
Finally I just pushed off. It wasn’t pretty, but I got down the hill with no damage to anything but my reputation as an athlete. I had been a minor-league competitive gymnast, but those skills did not translate to snow. I fell a few times--not the graceful falls where someone just kind of sits down. No, we’re talking crossed skis and worse.
I kept trying for the rest of the afternoon, taking breaks to remove the snow jammed inside my collar, hoping I would quickly improve with practice. This was not the case.
And the feeling generated by this memory is what I think of when I hear Jesus say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
I propose that the peace of Jesus is not like floating on a cloud, or sitting calmly in lotus pose, or having everything just the way you want it. The peace of Jesus, in my experience, is more like pushing yourself off down the mountain instead of just standing there in the cold and wind with everyone looking at you.
The peace of Jesus is discerning what is the right thing to do, and then doing it, no matter the consequences.
Think about it. What peace, exactly, has Jesus experienced during his ministry? He begins with 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, tempted by Satan to use his power to provide for himself. He has been mobbed by crowds who want things from him--healing, mostly, and food, and water. His own mother wanted him to turn water into wine. He has calmed big lake storms for his frightened friends. He has washed his disciples’ feet. He has been misunderstood by those who claim to love him, and threatened by those whose power he threatens.
Occasionally, when he has had enough, or maybe a little more than enough, he goes off by himself at the crack of dawn to be alone with God.
That’s it. The peace of Jesus seems to consist of helping other people not necessarily because we want to, but because they need our help and helping them is the right thing to do. It consists of saying and doing the truth, which will almost always bring an unpleasant reaction from those in power. It consists of loving the outsiders, and provoking the insiders, and bearing the consequences.
In Jesus’ case, it will lead to his death on a cross.
Welcome, my friends, to the peace of Jesus.
I have struggled with this. I really want the kind of peace that accompanies a day where everything goes the way I want, and I get to laugh and sing and enjoy my family and friends. I bet Jesus liked that kind of peace too. But it is not what he promises. He give us peace, his own peace, which is not like the world’s peace.
Again, it is the peace of doing our best to discern the right thing, and then doing it, no matter the consequences.
Here’s an example. Today is “It’s Time” Sunday, and we are joining our hearts and minds and prayers together with other reconciling (meaning LGBTQ-inclusive) United Methodists around the world, working for the end of the harmful exclusionary policies of our denomination. Here in the New York Annual Conference, we have had a couple of collective actions to move this issue forward toward inclusion. Another is coming soon.
The first was called the Covenant of Conscience. Clergy and lay people and churches--including Memorial--have signed it. It is a pledge to conduct weddings in our churches and by our clergy without regard to the gender(s) of the people involved. Signing it is not a violation of any United Methodist rules--but acting on one’s signature, to do a same-sex wedding, is.
I have watched more than a few of my colleagues struggle with this. They say things like, “I’m an ally. I always vote the ‘right’ way. But I don’t want to be a source of conflict in my congregation. I don’t want to distract us from our mission. I’m everyone’s pastor. (Or superintendent. Or bishop.) I’ll do what I can, but I have to obey the rules. I’ll work from the inside. I can’t sign that.”
They know the rules are unjust, and that is the source of their discomfort. Other colleagues agree with our denomination’s exclusionary rules, and that’s a different story. But the ones who would like the rules to change, but will obey them in the meantime...they have a very uncomfortable problem.
And I know, because for a while I had the same problem. When the Covenant of Conscience first came out, I didn’t sign it right away. I was ready to do anything for the cause--as long as it didn’t put me at risk. I mean, I would wear a blue armband at Conference, signifying my objection to the rules, but I wasn’t prepared to break them.
Until a friend sat me down and listened to my embarrassed excuses and said, “You know what’s right, don’t you? It’ll be easier if you just do what’s right.” And she was right.
I pushed myself off down the hill, and I was free. I’m a different pastor now.
As important as our internal struggles for justice in the UMC are, this applies to a lot of things beyond that. It applies to issues of racism and sexim and poverty, to personal relationships and politics, how we spend our time and how we spend our money.
But it’s hard to jump off more than one mountain at a time. So just think of one thing. Is there something, one thing, in your life that you know is right, but haven’t done yet?
(Sometimes we don’t know what’s right, and that’s a problem for another sermon.)
Think of that one thing. Hold it in your mind. Feel your discomfort.
And now imagine--imagine doing it. Just push yourself off down the mountain. And be free.
“Peace I leave with you,” says Jesus. “My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Amen.